THE UGLY DUCKLING is a lovely new book that features this classic tale. The book features the story in simple languageSee my review here: LINK TO COME
THE UGLY DUCKLING is a lovely new book that features this classic tale. The book features the story in simple language with lovely full page images and lots of animals. Staying close to the original, this is a great way to share this fairy tale with your toddler/preschooler.
A mother duck is sitting on her eggs and most of them hatch to reveal yellow ducklings. The last egg takes longer to hatch, and when it does, it is a fluffy duckling who cannot quack. The other ducklings laugh at him, and the farm animals reject him. The ugly duckling travels away where he faces new challenges and dangerous weather. After he survives the cold winter, he approaches some beautiful white birds- and finds that he is one too! The ugly duckling has found his place as a beautiful swan.
This oversized board book is great for reading aloud to little ones with large, clear font that is easy to see from reading distance. The full-size, colorful images will easily appeal to the young audience who will also be enchanted by the many animals the duckling comes across. The illustrations are really lovely and give young readers many things to look at and enjoy on each page. The book contains a balanced amount of dialogue which is also fun for young readers.
A great way to bring the treasured classic to the next generation, this lovely book is a joy to share with toddlers and preschoolers who will delight in the ugly duckling's journey to becoming a swan. The book is also a great way to start conversations about being kind to others and being different. Highly recommend for parents who like reading aloud to young children.
Please note that I received a copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own....more
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK uses accessible language, colorful cartoonish images, and oversized board book pagesAlso check out my review here: LINK TO COME
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK uses accessible language, colorful cartoonish images, and oversized board book pages to bring this classic fairytale to preschoolers. This book follows the past stories of Jack and the magic beanstalk very closely, staying true to the originals. Jack and his mother are poor with only their cow for milk. When the cow stops producing, Jack must go and sell the cow to afford food.
Jack ends up selling to an old man who offers him a handful of beans. When Jack comes home, his mother is upset and throws the beans outside. It rains overnight, and a beanstalk grows. When Jack climbs it, he finds a huge castle- and the giant who lives there. The giant looks for him but cannot find where Jack hides. When the giant falls asleep, Jack steals a bag of gold. Later, Jack returns and steals a goose who lays gold eggs and then a magical golden harp. The harp wakes the giant, and he follows Jack down the beanstalk- until Jack chops it down and the giant falls. Jack and his mother live happily ever after.
The book itself is large with many full page illustrations that are full of colors. The words are printed in a large and clear font, which is great for adults who read aloud and/or young children who are learning to read. The text itself contains simple words, which are easy for toddlers and preschoolers to understand. Jack and his mother's emotions are also described in the book, which helps with children's comprehension.
Although the implication is that the giant dies at the end, this is not stated outright which is appropriate for the age group. There is also a good amount of dialogue, which allows readers to do voices to entertain their little ones.
For parents who love the classics and easy to read books, this new edition is a delightful one to share with young children who will understand the text and enjoy the lovely images that cover each page.
Please note that I received a copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own....more
CITY OF BEASTS is the must-read dystopian of the fall. Highly recommend for fans of THE DIVERGENT, DARKEST MINDS, and/or HANDMAID'S TALE. An all new sCITY OF BEASTS is the must-read dystopian of the fall. Highly recommend for fans of THE DIVERGENT, DARKEST MINDS, and/or HANDMAID'S TALE. An all new story takes us to the aftermath of WWIII in Buffalo, where men ("beasts") and women ("fees") have separated for seventeen years. Fees live on an island where they train in science and fighting techniques- and are often under attack by the beasts, but are able to fight them off.
Glori grew up after the separation, and this world has been all she knows. She grew up with her mother, grandmother, and their co-habitating partners, Su and her mother. After her mother was taken by the beasts, she returned pregnant, giving birth to a beast- Glori's beloved little brother. Glori worries he will turn into a beast from the stories, violent and cruel, but he is still her little brother. When he is captured at five years old and taken into the City of Beasts, Glori knows she would do anything to get him back.
She hatches a plan with Su, and they travel into enemy territory to save her brother. However, things are not as simple as they expected, and plots bigger than they ever could have anticipated are afoot. With amazing characters and messages about looking deeper than the stereotypes pervading the novel, this book is an incredible read.
What I loved: The characters, the world building, and the whole book are just amazing! Glori is really well-crafted- she is intelligent and an amazing fighter, and we understand her conflicts and struggle as she comes to terms with the world she has known and the world she finds now. Through her eyes, we see not only this dystopian future but also our lives as they are now and the inherent sexism in the everyday (advertisements, expectations, etc.). In terms of the secondary characters, they are also fully three-dimensional and complex- with so many I absolutely fell in love with.
The world is similarly well-crafted and so easy to imagine. The science is logical and makes sense. Furthermore, this all develops without dragging the plot or slowing the pace. This book is really beautifully written. There is appropriate humor (laugh-out-loud while reading funny), tension (thriller-like danger in places), complex theories (great discussions about sexism, stereotypes, science), and a dash of romance to complete this engrossing novel.
Final verdict: CITY OF BEASTS is an incredible read, and I highly recommend for any fans of YA dystopian/sci-fi. Engaging, complex, and completely entertaining, this book will keep you turning pages quickly until the satisfying end....more
BE MORE CHILL is an interesting discourse on popularity/being "Cool" and the pros/cons of technology. Jeremy is part of the uncool crowd and infinitelBE MORE CHILL is an interesting discourse on popularity/being "Cool" and the pros/cons of technology. Jeremy is part of the uncool crowd and infinitely aware of this. He keeps a list/tally of the embarrassing things that happen to him during the day. He dreams of dating Christine, a girl in the theatre crowd, and he is excited to be in the school play with her. However, talking to Christine is not easy.
Soon, he learns about the "squip," a computer pill which you eat and which can help you become Cool. He must first obtain the money for it, but then he knows he can be Cool and date Christine. Even in the process of getting the squip, he begins to do things he never would have considered before (e.g. stealing from his family), and then once he has it, the squip convinces him to do things he balks at (e.g. ditching his friend, drugs).
The major themes of the book include what you give up of yourself to become Cool/the cost of popularity and the value of technology- how much you can let it decide your life vs. using it only as a tool (it is not infallible). These can spark some interesting discussions.
What I loved: The plot/idea of the book is really fascinating- imagine a supercomputer in your brain! The discussions that can stem from the book are pretty widespread, including peer pressure, homophobia, sexism, reliance on technology, mental illness (another student mentions cutting), and drug/alcohol use. As a piece of satire, it can really engage readers. Notably, everything does not work out perfectly for the main character, who does learn some hard lessons at the end of the book- and this is also valuable.
What left me wanting more: The main content warnings are difficult things to read but are the same things that can spark some important discussions (e.g. sexism- Pick Up Artist style recommendations from the squip, homophobia- calling things which are deemed uncool as "gay," etc.). It is not always easy to like the characters in the book, but I think this was intentional as a learning tool for navigating social waters and recognizing mistakes.
Final verdict: BE MORE CHILL has broad appeal not only because of the fascinating plot but also for its easy to connect with storyline and relatable high school experience. The story can spark some important discussions, making it an intriguing book for discourse. The tie-in edition includes some great extra content, including a foreward about the making of the musical, as well as some lovely images from the show. Great edition for fans of the musical!...more
EVERY STOLEN BREATH is an engrossing read that follows Lia as she attempts to uncover her father's killers. Every so often, Chicago is hit by the Swarm, a large group of teenagers who attack a person, seemingly at random, by surrounding and beating them to death. As it is such a large group, there is not much that can be done to stop them, and witnesses are few and sometimes killed. The attacks seemed random until Lia's father was the victim two years ago. Her father was investigating the Swarm and was about to convict someone he thought was behind it.
After her father's death, no one has been able to make the connections and piece together who is really behind the Swarm. Lia is obsessed with figuring it out- despite her asthma and PTSD. However, her determination has led her to where she thinks she may know where the next attack will be. She has contacted the police, but what they really need is evidence, and Lia is determined to get it for them, by recording where she believes will be their next attack.
However, the close encounter only escalates the danger for her- and leaves her without the evidence she needs. Unable to drop her search for justice, the clock is ticking until the Swarm chooses her as its next victim or she exposes whoever is behind it.
What I loved: The plot of this book was really interesting with chasing down clues, and the ways that Lia navigates this world make it really engrossing (big whodunnit mystery, plus the thriller aspects of potential targeting). She is lucky to be aided by others in her journey, and the information about cyber security seemed really well researched. The representation of Lia's PTSD was really strong, and bringing attention to mental illness is helpful- especially here, where Lia's mother is getting her help to treat it.
What left me wanting more: As a minor point, there are some sections of the book that seemed to drag a little (in the middle, when not too much happens), and I would have liked to keep up the fast pacing going throughout. Overall, it kept the thriller/mystery plot line going strong throughout.
I would add warnings for major character death, murder, and assault, as well as a minor warning for a not-completely-wrapped up ending. The big things are taken care of, but I wonder if there might be a sequel in the works...
Final verdict: Original, engrossing, and full of suspense, EVERY STOLEN BREATH is an intense YA thriller/mystery and page-turner. I would highly recommend for people who enjoy procedurals/thrillers and a tenacious heroine....more
OCEAN: A PEEK-THROUGH PICTURE BOOK is a beautiful exploration of marine life. Featuring clever cut-outs on each page that peek-through when on the left or the right side (no matter which way the page is turned, something is peeking through), children will love to explore these fish and the underwater world.
The rhyming text is perfect for young readers who will enjoy the melodic descriptions as they take in the gorgeous illustrations with many bright colors and sea creatures. The book features facts woven into the poetic writing about dolphins, sharks, whales, lionfish, and more!
What I loved: The combination of the images and text are simply fantastic! The rhyming phrases have huge appeal to readers of all ages. The peek-throughs are perfect, featuring previous of fish and looks through pages past and future. I also really love how even after you turn the page, it still peeks through to something (e.g. a cut-out may show a squid when on the right side and then a couple of fish when on the left). The book is truly entertaining and great for its target audience. With the added addition of the information about the featured sea creatures in the text, it is also very educational!
Final verdict: Educational and simply delightful, young readers will love peeking through the pages at the many colorful and gorgeous sea creatures featured in this charming book. There's a lot to see and learn in this appealing exploration of the ocean. Highly recommend for toddlers through elementary school age readers who love science, fish, and/or lovely books....more
MOON WATER follows Nettie in the summer of 1969 when her life is in turmoil. Nettie is 16 years old and her life is changing. She is not sure if she and her boyfriend, Andy- a childhood friend turned more- will last once they go to college, and this worry has been making her unsure of whether she loves him. Andy decides to give her a break until she can figure it out.
At the same time, she is preparing for baptism in the church. However, Nettie still has a lot of questions about religion that she isn't sure about, and her honesty means she cannot lie to the pastor, resulting in a delay in her baptism. He assigns her to work with another pastor more closely to go over material and believe more fully before she is baptized.
Nettie and her BFF Win are inseparable and do everything together, and this summer is no different. As per usual, they often take the train to Win's grandmother Nibi. Nibi is a Monacan Shaman or Medicine Woman, and she has warnings for the girls with the upcoming blood moon. As part of this, she is teaching them carefully how to make dreamcatchers starting with how to painstakingly gather the materials they need. Many other lessons are tucked into the process.
What I loved: The best parts of the book were those with the dreamcatchers and the lessons that Nibi teaches the girls. I would have loved to be even more fully immersed in the Monacan culture and Nibi's vast knowledge. The plot is fast-paced, a lot of the story told in dialogue, which keeps things interesting and moving quickly. There are also some interesting debates on Christianity and good/evil in the context of Christianity (I would certainly label this as Christian fiction), as Nettie prepares for her baptism. Some of the concepts/lessons, such as good and evil coexisting and not being easy to separate, are universal, however.
What left me wanting more: The book seemed more focused on the Christian spiritual journey than on the Native American, and I was looking for more along the latter. I would also love to read a book from Win's point-of-view, exploring her culture more closely. Here, it was a secondary plot.
This may be a spoiler, so if you want to avoid them- skip this paragraph. A big part of the latter story was sexual assault/harassment. While this is handled with some care (police mentioned), I would have liked to see more about the recovery/resources. Parents are hardly involved and no therapist or other resources are described. The book overall has a quick pace that does not get into the details, but this is a pretty big plot point here, so I would have liked to see more.
I would also add warnings for character death and natural disasters.
Final verdict: Overall, this is a fast-paced coming-of-age story that weaves some Native American traditions into Christian fiction with interesting morality and faith-based discussions. I would recommend for people looking for something unique that will spark interesting discourse on good/evil, sins, and moving forward after traumatic events....more
THE SPEED OF FALLING OBJECTS begins with a bang- Danny has been in a plane crash and is lost in the Amazon rain forest. Danny (Danger Danielle Warren) is about to turn 17 years old, and she lives with her mother who is a nurse. Her father is a famous TV reality show survivalist (survives with a guest star famous actor or actress in each episode), but he has not been around much- that hasn't stopped Danny from wishing she could know him better. When he calls and asks her to come with him to film one of his show's episodes, Danny is really excited.
Danny has wanted to go back to being fearless, but she lost an eye when she was younger in an accident (details not revealed until later in the book). Since then, she feels like her anxiety and her physical limitations have pushed her dad away, so she is excited to get to know him better and show how cool she is/can be- even if he thinks she is actually turning 16 and has not made much of an effort to know her before now.
However, the small plane they are taking out to the rain forest to film on location crashes. Danny will have to survive with her father, some of the crew, and the famous (and young and attractive) actor who had been planned to be a part of the episode. The journey through the rain forest is perilous and Danny will have to come to terms with who she is- and who her father actually is.
What I loved: The world and character-building are top-notch in this book! I was completely engrossed by Danny, her family, and the danger that surrounds the small group in the rain forest. I loved the build up through not only the survival but also to Danny's revelations about herself and her parents. The romance was a nice touch to add a little cherry on top of this delicious book sundae.
This book was unputdownable with a tension-filled storyline for both relationships and peril. I really adored so many of these characters with their flaws- they felt so three-dimensional. I am just gushing about this book, and I really loved it, and Danny. I only wish there was more, so I could stay in her world a little longer. I would warn you that there is character death in the book and plenty of suspense that comes with survival situations.
Final verdict: This engrossing YA story is a really beautiful story about embracing yourself, recognizing your own strength, and coming to terms with the past and your family. I highly recommend for anyone looking for an unputdownable YA contemporary with suspense and a touch of romance....more
RATED follows six teens in alternating points-of-view as they navigate a dystopian future. In this society, your life is dictated by your rating. The higher your rating, the more elite your life can be with better housing, better healthcare, etc. Lower ratings can mean homelessness, a lack of employment, and problems with just about everything. The six students are at Maplethorpe, an elite school where low ratings will get you kicked out. As a student, your ratings are updated constantly and everyone can see them- your grades, interactions with teachers and other students, and basically any/everything you do can raise or lower your rating.
Bex is an overacheiver with many extracurriculars and no free time, but that positivity is reflected in her score. She has recently been assigned to tutor Chase, an athlete who might lose his scholarship if his score drops much lower, and who it is hinted has a learning disability. Another athlete is Hana, a figure skater who wants to win the Olympics, but she is hindered by a very severe eating disorder. She has recently connected with Tamsin, a girl who reads Tarot cards for money and has very little respect for the school- but is smart enough to keep her score just high enough to keep from being expelled.
Then, there is Noah, a loner who loves photography and his sister, who is sick and needs a bone marrow transplant. He will soon meet Javi, a professional video game player who lives with his Abuela and siblings. Javi doesn't interact much with other people his age in the real world, but that is about to change.
After a graffiti message painted on the school declares that ratings are not real, they each begin finding notes with a cryptic message on them. As the school and society seems determined to cover up the message, there appears to be something bigger going on, and the teens will have to work together to figure it out.
What I loved: The characters were all interesting and well-constructed. Despite having so many points-of-view, it was easy to follow and remember each of them- which is not an easy feat! The mystery around the messages also adds some intrigue to the plot. The strongest parts of the book were about the characters though and their diversity in thought and world, dealing with issues including mental illness (eating disorder, parent with alcoholism), poverty/elitism, parental expectations, learning disabilities, and sexuality (LGBT representation in the main characters).
What left me wanting more: The book was a little scattered, and I think needed to either be longer or have fewer main characters so that we could focus on things a little more. There were some gaps in the plot that seemed just to come out of nowhere, to the point where I wondered if whole chapters were just missing, but I think this was done to help keep the pace faster. I also felt like the world-building was a little fuzzy. There was a lot of character-building, but we know relatively less about the world they are in, when it is, or how it came to be. Maybe this will be fleshed out in future books. Either a longer book or fewer characters to allow for a deeper plot would have helped with this also.
Final verdict: Overall, this is an intriguing and engaging YA dystopian that would be great for fans of UGLIES, ASH, and/or MATCHED. With great character building, this is an interesting start to a series, and I would be curious to read more in the future....more
LET'S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY follows Ellis, a teenager who is Mormon and has an anxiety disorder. Eliis is in therapy as she struggles through anxiety every day- in social situations, about her family, and about potential apocalyptic situations. She is what she considers a normal prepper- not too intense about it, but she is still prepared for the end of the world.
She feels a little disconnected from her family- her sister who is understanding less, her father who loves her but is not as close as he used to be, and her mother who loves her but is having a hard time understanding her and so lashes out. She also strongly believes in the church and her religion, but she is questioning her sexuality. Altogether, it is a lot to deal with.
When Ellis meets Hannah in the waiting room of her therapist, she is surprised by Hannah's reaction. When Hannah seeks her out and soon reveals that she has visions/dreams of the apocalypse, Ellis's fears are coming true, but she knows how to prepare. As they work together, it becomes even more convoluted and things are not quite what they seem.
What I loved: The representation here is great. Tal, another main character, is bisexual, Ellis is questioning, and Hannah is gay. There is also mental illness in Ellis's anxiety and in the homeless people who appear in the book with undiagnosed mental illnesses. There are some interesting discussions about this that were also handled really well, and Ellis's anxiety is palpable and really well written. The Mormon religion was also thoughtfully handled throughout.
The book really portrays familial relationships well and demonstrates quite a few different families, such as Hannah's with her parents who are mostly absent, Tal, whose parents are divorced and lives with his dad while his mother has a new family in the Mormon church (and he visits her at times), and then, of course, Ellis, who has complicated relationships with her family due to her anxiety disorder. The characters were all very three-dimensional and complex, which makes for an interesting read as Ellis prepares for doomsday with Hannah.
What left me wanting more: While Ellis begins to understand her mother a little better, I would have liked a clarifying discussion so that we could confirm what Ellis believes. Some of the conversations they have are really painful- but ultimately really true as well, and their relationship adds a lot of complexity to the novel that I would have liked more resolution for. I would also have liked a little more at the end to explore Hannah a bit more and how she will move on after this (an epilogue or a few more chapters)- but even as-is, the book is wrapped up pretty well.
Final verdict: Overall, this book is a charming and in-depth character study of Ellis, a young girl with anxiety who is questioning her sexuality and who is also Mormon. With complexity that shines through the plot, friendship and familial relationships come to the forefront of this engaging read....more
THE SURFACE BREAKS is a slow-building retelling of The Little Mermaid. While staying true to the classic, this story adds a lot in terms of sexism and the oppression of women. Muirgen (aka Gaia, Grace) is the youngest daughter of the sea king and a mermaid. She is turning fifteen when the book begins, and she is betrothed to Zale, an old man and a warrior of the sea who has made it his mission to kill all the Rusalkas.
Muirgen is desperate to escape. As a mermaid, she has been raised to know that her only value is in her beauty- her long hair, her pretty face, her thinness, and her silence. Under the sea, the sea king wields his power, often with violence and always with the oppression of women, who have no figurative voice. When Muirgen sees a boy on a ship, she feels that she loves him instantly, and when the Rusalkas (essentially sirens, less beautiful mermaid-type creatures who were once human but died due to the cruelty of men and thus lure men to their deaths) have him, Muirgen pulls him away and brings him to shore.
Thinking that her love of him will save her, she goes to the only person who might help her- the sea witch, Ceto. Ceto agrees to help her- for a price. However, with an abusive man as her future husband and hope for a better life on land, Muirgen is willing to pay any price. She is also hopeful that she may learn what happened to her mother who disappeared/died when she was one year old when captured by humans. However, once she reaches land, things are much more complicated than Muirgen would have anticipated and time runs quickly towards her end.
What I loved: Ceto was my absolute favorite character here, and she speaks some important truths. In terms of this being a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, you can see it in the messages you take away- plus in pretty much everything Ceto says. While there is instalove, this actually is explained and drawn out further in the rest of the book in a way that pokes fun at the notion (e.g. as Ceto points out, this is lust- not love), and I actually really enjoyed this explanation, especially since, in the book, this comes in part because of the way girls are raised and taught about their emotions/bodies.
Other thoughts: The book begins slowly with long, drawn-out world-building before we get to the key parts. Once it moves into the fairytale, it does speed up quite a bit. I do understand the necessity of building up the world also, and the pace does get faster through the book. I would add warnings for sexual assault (multiple instances), physical and emotional abuse, torture, fat-shaming/extreme sexism, and homophobia. As such, I would recommend for older readers.
Final verdict: With many truths (Ceto) and lessons to be learned throughout, this retelling lives up to its description, an important feminist take on The Little Mermaid. THE SURFACE BREAKS is an engrossing and fascinating read with many takeaways that add a lot to the value of the story. I would recommend for older YA readers who are looking for a strong fairytale retelling and/or a dark and engaging fantasy read....more
PROFESSOR RENOIR'S COLLECTION OF ODDITIES, CURIOSITIES, AND DELIGHTS primarily follows Babe, a fourteen-year-old girl who has gigantism. She already stands at nearing 7' tall and towers over everyone around her. She was not taught well, as she was kicked out of school when she was younger, and her father shows little to no interest in her. She sleeps in the barn, and she is happy with that as she loves animals and brings strays in to help them heal.
When Professor Renoir comes to town to see about purchasing her services, her father is all too happy to let her go, as long as he gets a good sum of money. Babe is willing to go and curious to find others who are different like her. On the circuit, she learns that the group is suffering financially, and another act has recently been purchased- a girl her age with dwarfism and a dwarf elephant. Her encounters with the girl, Carlotta (Lotty), have not gone well so far.
Babe finds solace in the friendship of the fortune teller, Madame de la Rosa, and in the aging animals in the group, a chimpanzee and a bear. However, with the group's finances being so bad, Renoir wants to kill the animals and stuff them. To prevent this from happening, Babe will team up with Carlotta.
What I loved: Babe's perspectives on the carnival are unique and provide new insight into the lives of the people and animals involved. The characters and the story really come to life in this book, with Babe feeling very real and three-dimensional, and even the other people capturing hearts and imaginations through their interactions with her (particularly Madame de la Rosa). There's a very clear villain here, and this seems common in this type of group, revealing important messages about the treatment/abuse of animals. There are also some great themes revealed through the interactions between Babe and Lotty with first impressions, appearances, and working together.
Final verdict: Fans of historical fiction and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS will delight in this enthralling book about a very tall girl and her journey through the carnival circuit. Babe is a fantastic and relatable character that shines through this story....more
TRUMAN is an unbelievably sweet story about a tortoise. Truman the tortoise lives with his best friend and owner Sarah, whom he loves. One day, Sarah gives him some extra green beans and tells him to be brave before he sees her take the number 11 bus going south. Truman noticed her bigger backpack and the extra green beans, and he becomes concerned. He waits a long time before he does something very brave- he decides to take the number 11 bus going south to find Sarah and starts a big journey.
With broad appeal for pet-owners and children who are starting a new school, this gorgeous story will touch your heart. Truman is a brave tortoise that has an amazing journey to find his Sarah. The illustrations are lovely with lots of colors and great details that only add to the broad appeal of this fantastic story.
What I loved: The story and images are absolutely beautiful. Truman is a tortoise full of heart that faces the odds and overcomes them. The book has some really wonderful details in the writing which captures Truman's story perfectly and the illustrations which show the whole street in the city- complete with Truman in the window.
Some illustrations which involve numbers also show them on the illustrations to aid in counting. For instance, when Sarah gives Truman seven green beans, the image has numbers 1-7 above the green beans, which make it easy for little ones to count. Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy counting along with Truman on these images- absolutely perfect for this age group.
Final verdict: Adorable, insightful, and lovely, TRUMAN will appeal to young readers and adults alike. This story is full of charm, bravery, and a bold adventure, perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, and young elementary schoolers. Truman and his Sarah will capture the heart and imagination in this first day of school story from a pet's point of view....more
THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF OKAY is a book that tackles sexism and slut-shaming. Written as a series of journal entries, we follow Izzy O’Neill before, during, and after the events that change her life forever. Izzy wants to be a comedian, which is not easy when you are female and/or when you are poor- and Izzy is both. She lives with her grandmother, Betty, since her parents died in a car accident when she was young. Betty works at a diner for minimal wages that are barely enough to cover the bills. Izzy does not want to get in debt, and so college is off the table.
When her teacher brings up the opportunity for her to enter a screenwriting contest that could advance her future career, Izzy is excited to enter. Around the same time, she is at a party and hooks up with a couple guys. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but then someone creates a horrible website and posts a photo of her having sex with a politician’s son and starting a whole pile-on of slut-shaming. As the site escalates and breaks into the news, Izzy is subjected to public shaming of a pretty intense order.
On top of that, her two BFFs are having trouble with her- one because they are caught in the crossfire and the other because he thinks he is in love with her and having a hard time being in the friend zone. Izzy deals with things using her humor, leaning into it and laughing about it, but that is getting harder to do with the press and outright harassment from students and even teachers.
The book primarily sets up the information and problematic practices of slut-shaming, “nice guys,” public shaming, and sexism/double standards.
What I loved: The book is really informative and lays out feminist stances for the events that occur. I like that Izzy sticks to her guns and knows herself so well. I also really appreciated some of the adult voices who are positive (such as one of her teachers), and who help to reinforce these messages. There is also a really great secondary story with her BFF of Indian descent, Ajita; I won’t get into the details to avoid spoiling it, but it was another great story to have threaded throughout.
What left me wanting more: The humor will appeal to the younger audience, but at times, I felt the jokes were a bit too much and some were abrasive (for instance, joking about a low IQ), but this was a relatively small point in the overall scheme and not uncommon for comedians. I think a lot in the book was a coping mechanism also, so this can also be taken with a grain of salt in that context.
Final verdict: Overall, this was an educational story about sexism in the modern era. With humor and great explanations, this was an overall interesting read. Recommend for people who are looking for something a little bit different in YA contemporary....more
THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT is an engaging YA contemporary with strong underlying messages about racism and social activism. With a romantic comedy premise and feel, this book is surprisingly educational, teaching about racism, white saviors, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, model minorities, as well as mechanisms for enacting change (e.g. petitions, protests).
CJ Katsuyama is seventeen years old and feels like she has failed at pretty much everything in her past. Her mother is a lawyer who works at a venture capitalist firm- owned by the billionaire family (McAllisters) who bought her family's business from her great-grandfather for pennies on the dollar during the internment and then insisted on selling it back after the war at current market value- a difficult feat for someone who had been interned. She has never known her father, who was someone her mother had hooked up with but did not keep in touch with. When her mother found out she was pregnant, she made a conscious decision to keep the baby, CJ.
CJ also lives with Hannah, her aunt and her mother's much younger sister, who often feels like an older sister rather than an aunt. CJ has recently started working as an apprentice at the family business, which is selling flowers, learning from her aunt who believes in the magic of flowers. CJ actually enjoys it and is starting to get better at it, when she learns that the business may be going under- potentially to be bought by the McAllisters again.
She is also getting to know Owen, the boy who is also working at the flower shop with her and big-time history nerd. At the same time, some drama with her BFF Emily is potentially happening with Emily's ex-girlfriend Brynn who did something terrible when they dated in middle school- and CJ has not forgotten.
As CJ balances her social life, she also knows that she wants to save the family business and get some justice against the McAllisters, starting her on a larger quest of social justice.
What I loved: First of all, most of the main characters are people of color and many are on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and they get a lot of presence in the story. On top of that, the book has asides throughout that cover important topics from CJ's ancestry and her own history as well as from larger history (e.g. internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, problems/history of model minorities) that really add an important educational element to the book. They are interwoven so well that it adds to the story quite a bit. It's a strong book with strong characters, and I absolutely loved reading it. With social justice themes and some romance and comedy, this was an engaging and incredible story that will make you wonder about the magic of flowers.
Final verdict: I highly recommend for readers of all ages who are looking for a strong and engaging story- romantic comedy, social activism, or just engrossing YA contemporary. You won't be disappointed in this amazing story. Fans of INTERNMENT, MOXIE, Maurene Gao, and Sandhya Menon will love this new book, and I would love to read more from this talented author.
As a final note, I would add warnings for teenage pregnancy, drug/alcohol use (marijuana), abortion, racism/sexism, and homophobia....more
CARNIVAL CATASTROPHE follows the seven Problim children as they continue their search for their mother. The seven siblings must work together if they have any chance- together they are strong. However, with some of the children distrusting the neighbors, the O'Pinions and their long-time family rivals, tearing them apart, they will have to learn to see the bigger picture and judge for themselves.
The book primarily follows Mona Problim, who is clever but also pretty. She distrusts the entire O'Pinion family, even though some of her siblings trust the children next door (though clearly the mother Desdemona O'Pinion has it out for them). As each of the Problim children is having dreams about their mother as they search for the sticks that can help them to find her, they decide to enter the town Carnival contests. The prize is to go into the caverns, where they suspect they may find something.
With riddles to solve, contests to be won, and lots of mystery afoot, this book is anything but boring. With some themes about not judging others based on appearances or prejudices, supporting family unconditionally, being true to yourself, and working together, this book has some great underlying messages.
What I loved: The story is overall humorous and has some really funny moments. For instance, Mona goes to the pageant's dress-up portion in a vampire costume, and of course, there is the humor children will appreciate of how baby Toot communicates through his gas (he has hundreds of different toots, categorized and described in footnotes). While the overall mystery continues as a thread connecting the books (where is Mama Problim?), there are a lot of smaller plotlines in this book that make it its own complete story. The lessons learned by the children- particularly Mona here- are really invaluable and given in an approachable way. For instance, what she learns about her neighbor and rival, Carly-Rue O'Pinion and how she ends up changing her stance on her.
Final verdict: Great for fans of Lemony Snicket, The Goonies, and general hijinks will enjoy this irreverent and comical middle grade fiction. With funny and teachable moments, this series is great for the older elementary school audience....more
THE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD features cartoony planets and drawings along with poems on each page. Topical, clever, and with interesting facts built in, this book has broad appeal for older elementary schoolers. From the planets and their moons to black holes, eclipses, sputnik, and astronomers, this book covers broad topics with humor intertwined with facts.
I loved the poem about Mars's moons, Phobos and Deimos (gods of fear and terror), who think their names must be an error because they look like a "lima bean" and a "po-tater." Another great one was the one for the "Children of Astronomy," which begins with Galileo and even includes you and me. The poems are all full of fun and information that will appeal to the target audience.
What I loved: The poems are very clever with facts that add an educational component throughout. There's a lot to learn about the universe while laughing and giggling through the poems and the funny images. This book has broad appeal for poets, astronomers, and anyone who loves a laugh.
Final verdict: With humor, information, and fun illustrations, THE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD is an enjoyable read for older elementary schoolers. Recommend for people who like space, science, poetry, or are just looking for something different....more
THE ASTRONAUT WHO PAINTED THE MOON is the true story of Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon. He had always wanted to be a pilot, and when the opportunity came, he became an astronaut. He took pictures of what he saw on the moon, but they did not match up to what he felt. Thus, when he returned he painted the moon for others to experience.
Most of the book details the history and story in an approachable way for young readers. The end of the book includes a timeline of space travel, photos of the moon, and some of the paintings that adds some appeal for older readers who may want to delve a little deeper.
What I loved: This interesting story adds some interest for combining the sciences and art, placing them together in historical context. Thus, the book has appeal to a broad audience. The story is very approachable for older preschoolers through elementary schoolers, giving a great overview of his life and work. The illustrations include a lot of color and detail that will be fantastic for older readers. There is a lot to see and experience in the book! The added back information also adds to the broad appeal.
Final verdict: Science and art meet beautifully in this true story about Alan Bean, astronaut and painter, who brought his visit to the moon to life in his artwork. Highly recommend for children who love science, art, and/or history in the elementary school-aged crowd....more
AS FAR AS THE STARS is a slow-burning book about overwhelming grief. Air (Ariadne) is a high schooler with heaps of responsibility on her shoulders. She has been her brother’s keeper for years, and right now, there is an extra weight in doing so. Blake, her older brother, is a musician touring England, and he’s a bit of a free spirit. He lost his phone and didn’t have enough money to book the flight he needed, so Air had to do it for him again. This time, she booked the flight into Nashville rather than the usual DC, because they have to be at their sister’s wedding.
She is on her way from DC to Nashville to pick him up when she gets his text that he is boarding and will arrive in Dulles (DC) at 10:15. When she questions him, he responds that yes, he is going to Dulles. Air assumes he must have switched the ticket or booked a different one, forgetting that she was supposed to meet him in Nashville. She rushes back to DC only to learn that the flight is delayed and then missing. But Blake was never supposed to be on that flight, so maybe he is actually in Nashville.
Christopher is folding paper and waiting for his father, who was on the same flight, but begins to talk to Air and then ends up accompanying her on her roadtrip from DC to Tennessee. Along the way, they talk about their families and lives, connecting on a deeper level.
What I loved: This book is a really deep character study into Air and Christopher’s lives. This type of book has its own appeal in getting entrenched in others’ lives. I actually did not like Air at first, but as we get to understand her better, she grew on me. I love her ambitions of becoming an astronaut, even though some of her self-constraints/punishments along the path seem over the top. She has a goal and is striving towards it the best way she knows how, and I admire that. Together, they add a lot of complexity- enough to fill a large book about a few days.
What left me wanting more: There were a few things that grated on me the wrong way, but which were overall small parts of the story. Air is upset about her older sister Jude getting married because Air believes that she is wasting her training at Julliard to become a wife and mother. I do not think marriage (or kids) is exclusive to career, and I felt like this sentiment was bandied about by Air too much. There is a bit of a discussion later between Jude and Air that somewhat gets at this, but I would have liked a bigger discussion about this ancient notion. The other thing was irresponsible pet ownership in that Air brings Leda, off-leash, everywhere, and lies about her being a service dog. She also does not seem to understand that people are very allergic to dogs when her mother brings this up as a reason to not allow the dog to roam the wedding. She also almost loses the dog a few times on a hike when Leda goes up to other people (who might be allergic or sensitive or anything else but are somehow super happy about it in the book) and when she takes off while they are talking. I felt like irresponsible pet ownership should have some consequences, as it may for other people (people with actual service dogs, people who are allergic, etc.). However, I recognize that these are relatively small points, but they did make the character more difficult for me to like, particularly at first.
Final verdict: Overall, this is an in-depth character study of family and grief with a tone and dialogue that really pulls you in to the story. The strongest part of this evocative story is the slow-burning romance that underlies the main plot. I highly recommend for people who like intensely personal YA contemporaries....more
A FRIEND FOR BENTLY is a heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship. Bently is the only pig on the farm and so he has no one to eat slop, roll in mud, and do crossword puzzles with. One day, he hears an oink and gets excited, thinking he has found another pig.
Instead, he finds a chick named Daisy, who wants to be a pig. Together, they do crosswords, roll in mud, and eat slop. However, when Daisy grows up, she is not able to spend so much time being a pig. She still cares about Bently, so she enters a crossword contest and a new gift arrives- a new pig! Bently is happy with his new companion, and Daisy still hangs out with them sometimes.
What I loved: The artwork is lovely with a watercolor look and many farm animals for little ones to enjoy. The word to text ratio makes this book great for toddlers and young elementary schoolers, who will enjoy the quickly turning pages and many illustrations. This book has some great messages about evolving friendships, such as when a friend moves away, and how new friendships can form.
What left me wanting more: I am probably reading too much into this and this is a small thing, but I would have liked Bently’s new friend to be something other than a pig, as it seems like the ultimate friend/companion is someone just like you, and I liked the idea of diversity in friendships that begins with Daisy and Bently. It would have also been cool if Bently could share some of Daisy’s interests rather than just his own.
Final verdict: Overall, this book has gorgeous illustrations and a sweet, simple story about friendship. Recommend for children who may be experiencing a moving friend or change of setting which can encourage them for evolving friendships/lives....more
I GOT NEXT is a picture book about self-confidence. A boy encourages himself to challenge the other kids who are playing to play him next. With fun though minimal dialogue about playing basketball and game faces, the book is really about encouraging yourself to make new friends.
What I loved: Always great to have books which feature diverse children, and this is a fun one. With minimal dialogue and colorful pictures, children will enjoy this brief read about basketball. The underlying messages are about self-encouragement and self-confidence. The text goes artfully with the images, and it is overall just plain fun.
Final verdict: This is a colorful and fun book about encouraging yourself to make new friends. With basketball and brief dialogue, children will enjoy making their own game faces and learning to say I GOT NEXT!...more
THE GREAT PUMPKIN CONTEST is a sweet and fun read about friendship. Mimi and her neighbor Clara are each entering the Pumpkin Contest. Mimi reads books and finds the perfect place to plant and grow her pumpkin. Clara plants from pumpkin seeds randomly. They both let them grow and grow. Mimi’s pumpkin is huge! Clara has a bunch of smaller pumpkins. Both of them are very proud of their pumpkins.
Mimi has a hard time getting her pumpkin to the contest. She gets it into a wheelbarrow and rolls it into town, where it drops and explodes! She runs home sad, where Clara finds her and gives her one of her pumpkins as a gift. Soon, Mimi has a new idea for the contest.
What I loved: This was a highly relatable and adorable story about two cats and a contest. Children can certainly relate not only to contests and hard work, but also friendship and not always succeeding the way you imagined. With the moral of the story being along the lines of friendship being the true prize, this story can resonate across ages. The images are also lovely with lots of bright colors.
Final verdict: This sweet picture book is sure to be a hit with young readers who will enjoy the lovely illustrations and story about friendship. Highly recommend for toddlers through elementary schoolers, especially during the fall!...more
SAVE YOUR FRIENDS! is a simple, interactive story told in speech bubbles. The shark is about to eat your friends, and you can save them by turning the page. The text tends to be fairly repetitive, along the lines of asking for help/to be saved and then thanking the reader on the next page as another sea creature asks for help. The images are simple but with fun animals.
What I loved: The interactive nature of the book is really strong, and young children will enjoy responding by turning the page. There are a variety of sea creatures pictured, which is also fun if parents can supply the information about the fish and other animals pictured. The end of the book features some shark facts, which adds an educational component to the book.
What left me wanting more: I would have liked some other information about the sea creatures featured throughout. For instance, an overhead text that names the animals and gives a fact, just to add an educational component, would have been cool to see. However, as is, it is still a fluffy and interactive book.
Final verdict: For children who love books like ARE YOU MY MOTHER? and THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THE BOOK, this is a fun and interactive book featuring a shark and the sea creatures it wants to eat....more
DIBS! is a story about brotherhood. Julian constantly calls dibs on toys and snacks from his younger brother Clancy. Clancy is watching, and soon, his first word is DIBS! Before long, Clancy has not only called dibs on the toys, but also his parents’ bed, then the White House and NASA! Clancy has gone to outer space.
Julian is excited to have everything to himself at first, but then he realizes he misses Clancy. He goes to the museum and takes a rocket to space to find Clancy, and saves him from the aliens who called dibs on the ship. With some lovely messages about sharing/selfishness and sibling rivalry, this book is a comical adventure.
What I loved: Julian and Clancy have quite the adventures here, and children will laugh at Clancy’s dibs on the White House and outer space. The messages about selfishness and sibling rivalries are also really cute and get the point across subtly. Children and adults can enjoy the beautiful illustrations that accompany the delightful text.
Final verdict: This is a fantastic read for children who have brothers or sisters and/or who just love to laugh! With detailed and lovely images along with some fantastic adventures, DIBS! is a truly fun read that will engage and delight young readers....more
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? is a stunning celebration of heritage/ancestry as well as an acknowledgment of the unnecessary question. A young girl is asked where she is from- really. She believes she is from the same place as everyone else- here. She decides to ask her Abuelo, because he also looks different, like her. Abuelo’s answer is gorgeous and celebrates who we are and the many possibilities of such a question.
Importantly, this book can spark discussions about diversity and many ethnicities/races. Regardless, the illustrations are unbelievably gorgeous and the storyline is just beautiful with lush descriptions and lots of familial love.
What I loved: The illustrations in this book are stunning, appreciable whether you are a young reader or an adult. The title question which sparks the book is acknowledged for its loaded meanings of not belonging, and Abuelo’s answer is really incredible. This lush and lyrical book is a fantastic read for preschoolers through elementary schoolers and can spark some important conversations.
Final verdict: Stunning, beautiful, and unique, this book is a must-read for elementary schoolers who can understand the feeling of not belonging and who can also learn about heritage and this loaded question. The illustrations and gorgeous text will appeal to a wide range of readers....more
DON’T DATE ROSA SANTOS is a sweet and touching book about family. Rosa lives with her grandmother, and she sees her mother every now and again as she arrives and leaves unexpectedly. Rosa’s family is thought to be cursed, as her grandfather drowned on the trip fleeing Cuba to America with her pregnant grandmother, who gave birth to her mother along the way. Her father disappeared to the sea when her mother was pregnant, and only his ship was ever found. Her mother and grandmother are rather tight-lipped about it all.
Rosa wants to connect with her heritage and has selected her college based on the availability of a study-abroad program in Cuba. She is not sure how her grandmother will take it, as it is one of the things they don’t discuss. Despite being a coastal town, Rosa has not spent much time around the water for fear of the curse. As the town needs to raise funds to prevent the marina from being bought out by upscale developers, Rosa proposes they have a cultural Latin American festival to raise money. As she gets into the planning, she is repeatedly paired up with Alex.
Alex (Alejandro) has left college and is back in town, working with his family and sailing- a fact that could make Rosa dangerous for him, if you believe in the family curse.
What I loved: This is really sweet story about family history and finding out who you are. The legacy of Rosa’s family has defined a lot of her life, and when the college that she planned to go to throws her a curveball, Rosa is left reconsidering her choices and why she has chosen the plan for herself that she has. I also really loved the representation of Latinx characters and the Latin American culture presented throughout. The relationships between characters, family and friends, were simply beautiful. This is a book which diverse audiences could easily connect with.
Final verdict: This is a lovely book about finding yourself, learning about family, and coming together. With beautiful writing that really connects the reader to the characters, this is a fantastic book for fans of Maurene Goo, Sandhya Menon, and Angie Thomas....more
In the near future, a reality TV star has become president and signed off on Alcatraz 2.0, a new prison where convicted murderers are sent to be watched by TV cameras 24/7 until they are selected by executioners and killed. The whole show can be streamed via an app, and users comment on the deaths and people constantly. The whole thing is run by The Postman, who decides which cameras to show and edits the murders for mass appeal.
Dee Guerrera was never a fan, owing to the trauma she suffered when she was held hostage as a girl. Her stepsister, Monica, was, however, so she knew about it all in passing. The executioners are known by stage names such as Gucci Hangman and Prince Slycer and referred to as Painiacs by the inmates. Dee was sentenced for killing her sister Monica based on weak evidence and an odd testimony from a psychiatrist, Dr. Farooq- however, she is innocent.
Once on the island, she notices something odd about the inmates- they are often young and attractive- were they guilty? What is going on behind the scenes? And the biggest question is can she somehow make it out alive?
This is a unique premise that plays off the social media obsession and the death penalty. Although some things were predictable in the book, the pacing is such that it completely pulls you in to the story and quickly moves to a satisfying ending. There is a lot unique about the killers and the way that things develop- in a reality show culture, this was an interesting take that certainly kept me page-turning.
There are also some really fun side characters, such as Ethan, who is obsessed with quoting action movies, even if it's in ways that don't necessarily make sense. I also would have loved to get to know Gris better, as she seems pretty awesome. I would have loved to go deeper into a lot of these characters, but keeping it plot-focused added to the fast pace of this YA thriller.
I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a deliciously light thriller. As a beachy read, this book delivers big time with not-too-scary thrills and fun characters. #MurderTrending is a unique read that will appeal to a broad audience....more
#Murderfunding is an engaging and fast-paced sequel to #murdertrending. Alcatraz 2.0 has been shut down and #CinderellaSurvivor (Dee) and her friends are in hiding. The fans of The Postman are trying to find them- and not for anything good. Although we get some of Dee's perspectives in this book, we mostly follow Becca.
Becca is an almost-eighteen-year-old whose stay-at-home mother has recently died in a car accident. As her mother's funeral, she notices someone with a camera. Later, the girl, Stef, confronts her to say that she is pretty certain that her mother was Molly Mauler, one of the Painiacs from Alcatraz 2.0. Determined to prove her wrong, Becca agrees to go with her to the set of a new reality show, WHO WANTS TO BE A PAINIAC? which is auditioning contestants to participate in a non-lethal (advertised as fake murders) competition to be crowned the next Painiac.
As they audition for the show, Becca is trying to find evidence that her mother was (or rather, hopefully was not) Molly Mauler. However, the show turns out to be way more deadly than advertised and the teens are in for a lot of unexpected twists and turns.
What I loved: This book continues the same page-turning and engrossing writing style that makes it difficult to put down. While the first one felt creative although the big twists were a little predictable, this one kept me guessing until the very end. There is a lot of creativity in the plot of the book, and it's really something entirely unique. Fans of the first will love this sequel, which is different but equally as enthralling.
Final verdict: Unique, engrossing, and thrilling, this sequel is a perfect compliment to the first book. Highly recommend for anyone looking for something different and new. Starting with the first book is helpful to understanding this one, so I would recommend reading them in order....more